For all the challenges of having a car in New York City, drivers here seem to enjoy one quirk: parking in the middle of the road with little or no impunity.
Technically, the law says that “double parking of passenger vehicles is illegal at all times, including when street cleaning is occurring, regardless of location, purpose or duration.”
It’s also true that by double parking — that is, parking parallel to another car that’s up against the curb, often for the purpose of making way for a street sweeper, loading or unloading your car or popping into a store — you run the risk of causing an accident, prompting a 311 complaint or waking a baby because someone leaned on their horn for 10 minutes to get your attention.
(On some occasions, you can even get a $115 ticket — more on that later.)
But look down virtually any street and you’ll see that despite the ample amount of free curbside real estate dedicated to car owners (who make up less than half of city households), drivers have largely decided that “a parking spot” is wherever they want it to be.
While double parking is — we’ll say it again — illegal, we’ve identified a few ways that drivers who care about manners go about it.
Putting a note with your name and number in the windshield
“You don’t want to hear horns blowing and blasting all morning,” said Lucille Flood, my former neighbor who kindly taught me the rules years ago after I blocked her Honda with my Honda.
Flood, an 87-year-old Bay Ridge resident, said the polite approach is to park in front of your own home, try to give other cars room to get out, and leave a note on your dashboard with your name, phone number and address written with a big fat Sharpie.
“This way, [other drivers] can either knock on your door or call you, and if you’re courteous, you’ll run right out and move the car,” she said.
She added that you shouldn’t double park at the very end of a street right up against the crosswalk, because other people driving down that street won’t be able to see around your vehicle, making it more likely that they’ll hit a pedestrian or an oncoming car.
When double parking to make room for the street sweeper, should people stay in their cars for the entire alternate side parking window?
It depends on how busy the street is. If everyone else is waiting in their cars and ready to move at a moment’s notice, then following their lead is the responsible thing to do.
If it’s a mellow block and everyone’s leaving their car unattended, then it’s probably OK to just leave a note in the windshield.
Is it OK to double park on a commercial avenue to quickly run into the bagel shop?
The most considerate course of action is to really try to find an open parking spot nearby or around the corner on a side street — especially if the commercial avenue has a bus route. (The city’s buses are slow enough, no one needs to make it worse.)
For drivers who are brazen enough to double park on the avenue, the least offensive approach involves flipping on your hazard lights to avoid getting rear-ended — and handling your business as quickly as possible.
Anselmo Greco, the owner of Generoso’s Bakery on Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park, said “one or two minutes” is reasonable. (He added that customers frequently get ticketed if they block the bus stop that’s partially in front of his store.)
Don’t block bike lanes
Not only does blocking a bike lane come with its own $115 ticket, it can also force a cyclist to swerve into traffic and potentially get killed.
What about double parking on the other side of the bike lane?
If there’s still room for traffic to go around on the left, then yes, that’s a morally (not legally) permissible option. It’s safer than blocking a bike lane.
OK, so now we know how New Yorkers double park “politely.” What’s the worst thing that could happen if someone gets caught?
You can get a $115 ticket. And it does actually happen — the NYPD told Gothamist it issued 410,690 double parking summonses in 2023.
The NYPD wouldn’t comment on the record about which types of double parking situations are most likely to lead to a ticket, but police have acknowledged in the past that they extend a courtesy to double parked cars in certain cases, including in front of mosques on Fridays and synagogues on Saturdays.
The truck delivering beer to the bodega double parks all the time, is that allowed?
Then the city tweaked the law in 2020, saying commercial double parking is only legal for deliveries that take “no more than 20 minutes,” (It’s also banned in most of Manhattan between 14th and 60th streets.)
As for the heavy hitters — UPS, FedEx, Amazon, the U.S. Postal Service — they’re going to double park no matter what because we keep ordering more and more stuff online without creating designated delivery zones along the curb. In honor of this reality, the city has a special program called Stipulated Fines and Commercial Abatement whereby these companies get a discount on their tens of millions of dollars worth of annual parking fines in exchange for not fighting the tickets.
Is there a grand solution that would eliminate the “need” to double park?
Share your ideas in the comments!